22 July, 2016

Jeans and heat

Stigmella lapponica

Stigmella luteella

Stigmella continuella

The scorching daytime heat in recent days has sent most animals scarpering for the shade, as I found out when I decided to visit Esher Common in 30°C midday heat on Tuesday - wearing a pair of baggy jeans. I soon realised that the protection given by jeans against horseflies wasn't outweighing the uncomfortable level of torridity below the waist, especially given that there were no horseflies on the wing in the heat. I think I've learned my lesson for next time.

A couple of Brilliant Emeralds were hunting in the shaded corner of Black Pond and Small Red Damselflies were everywhere, but the only things willing to oblige for photographs were a handful of leaf-mining Stigmella moths. A bit of rummaging around resulted in three different species, all quite easily distinguished from each other using small differences in the structure and contents of their feeding patterns.

19 July, 2016

Emperor in the oaks

I recently managed to have a catch up with Dave Boyle, ex-warden on Skomer back in the UK briefly to renew his visa before heading out to the Chatham Islands to co-ordinate conservation efforts for the endemic Chatham Petrel. Dave was keen to catch up with the enigmatic Purple Emperor whilst back in the country, and the offer of a lift was too tempting for me to resist.

We arrived at Alice Holt Forest just as the first rays of morning sunlight began to scatter through the trees, warming up the woodland ride along which Purple Emperors are known to descent down from their usual haunt high in the mature oaks to feed on salts kicked up from the path. In the previous few days, we'd caught wind of news from the forest that Emperors were actively feeding on the ground, perching on people's shoes and even landing on the head of an unsuspecting dog, so hopes were high that we'd be treated to a good display.

After a chilly start, by mid-morning the forest had heated up considerably, enticing White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary and Purple Hairstreak onto the wing at canopy level. Every large butterfly silhouetted against the sky had us craning our necks upwards in the hope that it was a Purple Emperor, but after a couple of hours standing in the 'hotspot' area without any luck, it became apparent that we needed a new strategy, and so we split up to cover more ground.

I retraced our steps towards the car, and it wasn't long before I caught a glimpse of a large butterfly effortlessly weaving in and out of the oak trees above me; gliding and swerving erratically in a manner that I'd never seen before from a butterfly. There was no doubting it - a Purple Emperor! I called Dave over, and he managed to fire off a couple of photographs with his telephoto lens, including this stunner:

Dave managed to perfectly encapsulate our typical views of the Emperor in this photo! 

Understandably, the Emperor was more interested in defending its patch of tree from rival males than worrying about providing us with a photographic opportunity, but every now and again it would take a rest on a leaf; catching the sun and showing off the stunning iridescent purple markings on the upperside of the wing.

Satisfied with captivating if tantalising views of Purple Emperor, we headed to the nearby Hankley Common - one of Surrey's finest examples of lowland heathland - and no sooner had we started walking than Dave calmly announced that he'd noticed a Sand Lizard basking amongst the heather in front of us. Having searched unsuccessfully for them on previous family holidays to Dorset, it took a double-take before I clocked that I was finally watching one of the UK's rarest reptiles in Surrey - only a few feet away!


Of course, I couldn't leave without a bit of micro-moth action...

 Ancylis uncella

 Sophronia semicostella

Aristotelia ericinella

10 July, 2016

What now?


All good things have to come to an end and I left Worcester last week on the morning that our house contract expired, bound for Surrey in a car that seemed to be packed full with ten times as much stuff than I arrived with. My university adventure has sped by, and despite often getting away with the bare minimum, my moth-related dissertation went down surprisingly well with the powers that be, and I've come away from it all with a first class honours degree in Conservation Ecology.

Moving home after three years of university and knowing that I have nothing separating me from the working world feels unsettling. I'm gutted to be leaving Worcester and all the great people I met there, but as has been reminded to me by the inevitable "so what are your plans?" conversation starters, now is as good a time as any to start considering possible paths to follow post-graduation.

I've got a few ideas in the works. The Natural History Museum's ID Trainers for the Future programme has intrigued me ever since it was first devised back in 2014 and I'm keen to apply for the final year of the scheme, even if it will be immensely sought after. Ecological consultancy, particularly as a seasonal field surveyor, is also something I'm looking into pursuing in the short-term, but if all else fails, postgraduate study is still on the cards if I can find the right Masters course for me. I'm already knee-deep in debt, so further loan accumulation won't be a shock to the system and I doubt I'll be in a position to start paying it back in the near (or distant!) future.

Ecology is my passion, but turning it into a profession is going to take persistence. Spilling out the ideas that have been whirling around in my head into a blog post is somewhat reassuring to my conscience that I haven't hit a loose end, and that there are opportunities around the corner. In the meantime, I'll carry on doing what I love. Wildlife will always provide me with endless fascination, and I'll try as hard as I can to make a living out of it.


Lace Border

Chalk Carpet

In other news, the south-facing slopes of the North Downs can be extremely productive for moths at this time of year, as I found out when I stopped off at White Down back on Thursday.

Argyresthia brockeella

Pempelia dilutella

Pyrausta ostrinalis

Argyresthia pruniana

Wild Strawberry

27 June, 2016

Unexpected tenants

I remember my elation when we were first given a tour around our student house and I found out that my bedroom had its own balcony. I zoned out for the rest of the viewing, not listening to a word the landlord was saying, and instead imagined all the ways I could turn the balcony into a wildlife haven. "There will be a couple of pots of Red Valerian here, some Verbena over there, and maybe a little wildlife pond in that corner" I pondered to myself, whilst the landlord discussed the terms and conditions of our contract with my housemates.

Fast forward to now, a few days before our contract runs out, and the balcony looks worse than it did when we took the house. My elaborate plans for it never materialised, and whilst the balcony has been a lovely spot to catch some evening rays, its wildlife value remains minimal.

Yes, those are traffic cones. We should probably give them back. 

Despite my lack of intervention, last week I lifted up a large paving slab and found these two fantastic beetles sheltering underneath. Whether they'd been on the balcony for a while, or were simply waiting out a rain shower will remain a mystery, but whatever their origin it's surprising to see them utilise such a meagre patch of habitat. Hopefully their tenancy wasn't too uncomfortable!

Chlaenius vestitus

Lesser Stag Beetle

14 June, 2016

Bookham Bugs

I was down south for the weekend, and stopped off at Bookham Common on Saturday for a few hours to take part in the monthly survey. Despite there being only three of us, we still tallied up a heap load of interesting critters, including some really impressive beetles.

 Agapanthia villosoviridescens

 Rhinoceros Beetle

Scaphidium quadrimaculatum

 Glyphipterix forsterella

 Grey Pug

 Coleophora kuehnella

You can keep up-to-date with the London Natural History Society's programme of events here

11 June, 2016

Moth conundrum

It's been a busy few weeks. I finished university, quit my job at Tesco and have spent the remaining time helping a PhD student carry out butterfly surveys in orchards across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire (you can read about Charlotte's ongoing research project here). Butterfly sightings within the orchards themselves are few and far between, particularly on the more intensively managed farms, and have mostly been limited to singles of Green-veined White and Painted Lady as they speed through. However, the overgrown field margins and buffer strips that surround each orchard are more productive - this striking dalmation spotted Thistle Ermine burst out from the undergrowth as I walked a transect on Monday.
   
Last Friday I spent the afternoon in a Christmas tree plantation just east of Worcester. Not the first place you'd expect to find me looking for moths, but it paid off. I was netting hundreds of tiny moths off the Fir trees which I suspected would turn out to be something interesting, but I didn't expect them to be quite as interesting as they have turned out to be. Dissecting a couple of specimens has shown them to be Epinotia pygmaeana - a scarce species associated with Norway Spruce. However, externally they show characteristics much more in line with Epinotia subsequana - an even rarer species associated with Fir trees. Dissecting moths is one of the most reliable and necessary methods of identifying troublesome moths, but given the extent to which these individuals resemble E. subsequana in forewing markings, the results have come as a surprise to everyone.

Everything we have so far has been passed on to the experts for further discussion, but which ever way you look at it this represents the first record of either species for Worcestershire. The whole saga now brings to light the difficulty involved in identifying these two species, and casts doubt over the reliability of forewing characteristics when telling them apart. The mystery deepens!

Epinotia pygmaeana (or is it?)

To clear my head of this moth conundrum, I visited Monkwood to survey more moths. Fighting fire with fire. I was surveying Drab Looper to be specific, an uncommon day-flying species that frequents coppice woodland with healthy populations of Wood Spurge, the larval foodplant.

Drab Loopers were thin on the ground, and one individual was all I could turn up in a two hour transect walk. There were plenty of other things to keep my eyes occupied though.

Blood-vein

Pammene germmana

Lobesia reliquana

05 June, 2016

Adela croesella and more!

The weather continues to be kind to us here in Worcester, and it was yet another warm, sunny and humid afternoon. I spent most of it traversing the hedgerows and fields around Rushwick, a village east of Worcester, in search of all things that crawl or fly.

Out in the grassland Diamond-back Moths continue to dominate over everything. Several would come bursting out from the sward with every footstep, and one can only begin to imagine how many hundreds of millions are involved in this particular migration event. Cuckoo flower has almost gone over for another year, but small numbers of Cauchas rufimitrella were still clinging to the few plants that remain in flower, providing an easy meal for several freshly White-legged Damselfly that patrolled the grasses. The hedgerows were brimming with insects, perhaps the most surprising of all being a Scarce Fungus Weevil perched out in the open on an alder sapling - the first I've seen and an impressive beast.

Star of the show had to be the spectacular Adela croesella, several individuals of which were displaying to each other above the lime trees. The males, with their long antennae, look too dainty to fly well, but get too close with a camera and they'll quickly flutter up to the canopy out of reach of a photo. Every now and again, one would settle on a leaf at eye-level, giving me the chance to fully appreciate the stunning iridescent purple and gold markings on their wings.


Adela croesella


Diamond-back Moth

Cauchas rufimitrella

White-legged Damselfly

Scarce Fungus Weevil

Brooklime

04 June, 2016

Diamond-back Moths

Diamond-back Moth

Diamond-back Moths have been blown over to Britain from mainland Europe in unimaginable numbers recently, with some recorders along the south-coast catching upwards of 1000 individuals in the past couple of nights. The migration potential of this species is well-documented, but the scale of this particular influx is awesome. Walking through the fields north of Worcester on Thursday I could barely move a few steps without kicking up half a dozen moths. Even in the city centre, there were Diamond-back Moths resting on the pavement along Worcester's busy high street, and from the reports on social media, this seems to be the situation in all four corners of the UK.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest that millions (perhaps even billions) have dropped out of the sky across the UK in the past few days, perhaps originating from eastern and southern Europe where it can be a 'pest' of agricultural crops. Moths never cease to amaze!

Celypha lacunana

Angle Shades

Common Swift

Black-tailed Skimmer

29 May, 2016

Constant distractions

I get extremely fidgety at this time of year. Leaves have burst back onto trees, and everywhere looks that little bit more superb because of it. If I'm not outside, I'm worrying about the insects I could be missing, and when I am outside I don't know which direction to turn. It usually culminates in many hours spent bashing or sweeping every square metre of vegetation, without actually covering much ground.

Apparently, according to friends and family, this doesn't always make me a very good walking partner. Whilst they want to work up a sweat, I want to find as much wildlife as possible. Give me a nice patch of woodland or grassland - no matter how small - and I can quite easily keep myself occupied for a day.

With this in mind, I made sure not to let anyone join me (not that anyone actually wanted to) on an evening foray around the village of Hallow last week. I stumbled across a tennis court sized patch of rough grassland opposite a sewage treatment plant and spent three hours recording things, ending up with my highest daylight search tally for the year of 31 moth species. There was such a diverse range of micro-moths flying that it would be hard to pick a highlight, but I was particularly chuffed to stumble across a small population of Dichrorampha sequana - an intricately pattered moth with a very comical snout.

 Dichrorampha sequana

 Aspilapteryx tringipennella

 Micropterix aruncella

 Coleophora trifolii

 Pammene rhediella

 Glyphipterix fuscoviridella

 Notocelia uddmanniana - leaf spinning on bramble created by the larva

 Tipula fascipennis

 Rhabdomiris striatellus

Rhingia campestris